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It's an approved school

Dundee High is the first independent school to meet charitable status criteria, writes Henry Hepburn.

Independent schools are breathing a sigh of relief after Dundee High was found to meet criteria for charitable status.

It was the first independent school to be reviewed under revised Scottish charities legislation. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator announced earlier this week that Dundee High and 13 other charities which volunteered for assessment had met the test.

Jane Ryder, chief executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, said: "This is good news for the charities that took part in our pilot exercise. All of them have demonstrated that they provide public benefit one of the key criteria in the new charity test."

But Ms Ryder stressed that all of the country's independent schools that are registered as charities would be assessed individually.

Under the new rules, organisations must show they have a charitable aim and provide a public benefit. The regulator found that Dundee High had a legitimate charitable aim of "the advancement of education". It offered public benefit by providing education for pupils of primary and secondary age, contributing to curriculum development, providing access to sports and other facilities, and contributing to the professional development of teachers.

No evidence was found of "significant disbenefit" that could outweigh the benefits.

A report by the regulator stated: "It has been argued by some that the existence of an independent school has a negative impact on state schools in the same area andor that independent schools are a divisive influence in society. We cannot find any strong evidence in support of either of these views in the context of the charity test.

"Fundamentally, these arguments appear to relate to the independent school sector as a whole rather than to, in this case, the High School of Dundee."

The regulator found that annual fees ranging from pound;5,841 to pound;8,304 and selection based on academic ability were not "unduly restrictive conditions". Fees were "neither particularly high or low" and about 13 per cent of pupils received some form of financial help, including bursaries awarded by the school.

Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said: "We remain confident that independent schools across the sector will also be able to demonstrate their case to the regulator.

"Like the High School of Dundee, many independent schools are built on a charitable foundation and are keenly aware of their charitable roots. They have a deep and active commitment to public benefit. They welcome pupils from a wide spectrum of families and are widely respected for the high standard of education they provide."

John Wheatley College, in Glasgow, was one of two bodies assessed that did not pass the charity test the other was the Voluntary Action Fund as it does not operate independently of government.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, has already anticipated this, promising college leaders last month that the Government would make up any financial shortfall created by the loss of charitable status for colleges.

The criteria developed in the pilots will now be used to assess all of Scotland's 23,500 charities.

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